What can Putin learn from failed coup in Turkey?

Army generals betraying the government, the president fleeing, tanks heading the streets of the capital, people gathering to defend the freely elected autocrat. There may ever be a similar scenario in Russia?

Photo Dima Tanin/AFP/Getty Images

No need to use your imagination so much. Russia has already seen a coup failing in two days. It was the summer of 1991, it was in the USSR, the leader on holyday far from the capital was Mikhail Gorbachev, tanks in the streets of Moscow were ordered by Communist Party hardliners, and the Russian people, harangued by the then president of Russia Boris Yeltsin, stopped the coup. Some 25 years have passed, Putin is not Gorbachev and his Russia is not the Soviet Union in agony after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Could it happen again? What can Putin learn from the Turkish lesson?

The National Guard, aka “Putin’s Praetorians”

It is a fact that Russia and Turkey resemble more and more each other. Rather, the less and less democratic and increasingly autocratic systems in the hands of the two Presidents look like the other’s reflection. It is debatable whether Erdoğan has taken the Putinism as a model for his country or Putin took a cue from the Turkish crackdown on the opposition and media, or perhaps both. What is certain is that Putin must have followed with attention the Friday night events in Turkey.

The Turkish coup leaders have been able move a few thousand soldiers, a dozen tanks and no more than a couple of helicopters. Probably, they hoped to capture Erdoğan and gain the support of the whole armed forces.

Putin can feel safe from such danger. After having balanced for years the role of the main internal forces – the Federal Security Service, FSB, and the powerful Interior Ministry –, ensuring that neither could have enough power to be able to undermine the other, just a few days ago he created the National Guard.

The new paramilitary body numbers 400,000 men from the internal security Vnutrenniye Voiska (VV), the police special forces OMON and Interior Ministry spetsnaz SOBR, who will be no more under the ministry. At the head of Natsgvardija has been appointed Viktor Zolotov, commander of the internal forces and former head of Putin's personal security until 2013.

“Putin’s Praetorians” are an armed force, highly skilled and well equipped with heavy weapons, distinct from the law enforcement and the army, and under the direct command of the President of the Federation.

If splinters of the army or the Ministry of Interior were to implement a Turkish-styled coup, the president would be safe and could count on a strong and rapid armed reaction.

A Russian Maidan

Putin bogeyman, however, doesn’t hide in the State apparatus, but among his people, the Russians.

It is hard to say, but it would be unlikely to see scenes like those in Istanbul and Ankara, with citizens in the streets to defend him from tanks. Russians in the streets are not a good sign for Putin.

The fear of a Russian Maidan has never been completely dispelled. It is the main target of all "anti-terrorism" activities of Moscow's security forces. Like the large drills hold last year, the Zaslon 2015, when 40,000 servicemen for 9 days in six regions of the country repressed a simulated mass demonstration. "The operations were based on events that occurred recently in one of the neighboring countries. In order to create conditions close to real events, the attributes of those events were used, up to burning car ties and stones and bottles being thrown at servicemen", said the spokesman of the VV, Vasily Panchenkov, describing a Maidan without naming it.

But such a scenario needs not only to be repressed, but also prevented. For this reason Putin signed some draconian and controversial laws, including the recent anti-terrorism law that took effect on Wednesday, the worst of all. Now, the failure to report a crime becomes itself a crime, while criminal responsibility is extended to minors over 14 years. But what did he nicknamed "Big Brother Law" is the control of communications: all calls, sms, messages and emails will be recorded and stored for six months, for the security services to read them. The government will have the power to demand providers the keys to encrypted traffic.

Well, in this perhaps Putin can learn something from Erdoğan. Not really from the coup itself, but from the purges that followed after. Should it happen in Russia, Putin’s repressive machine will have all the blacklists already filled, and a model of good practice.


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